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Career cushioning: what it is and is it something you should be doing?

Career cushioning: what it is and is it something you should be doing?

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • What career cushioning is, and what it’s meant to accomplish
  • When you should (or shouldn’t) career cushion
  • Career cushioning method #1: routine job searches and applications
  • Career cushioning method #2: learning and mastering skills your target career will need
  • Career cushioning method #3: routinely cultivating and expanding your network
  • Key takeaways

What career cushioning is, and how it can help if you’re worried about your job security.

Like certain species of sharks, who constantly swim through the ocean so fresh water passes through their gills, a successful business professional must keep seeking out new career opportunities and create backup plans for worst-case scenarios. One such backup plan, often called “career cushioning,” is used by canny professionals to identify alternative careers and quickly get re-hired if their current company lays them off. To learn more about the meaning of career cushioning and whether you should do it yourself, keep on reading!

This article will take a look at the following career cushioning topics and methods:

  • What career cushioning is

  • Career cushioning ethics and standards

  • Career cushioning by searching for jobs

  • Career cushioning by mastering new skills

  • Career cushioning by networking

What career cushioning is, and what it’s meant to accomplish

The concept  of “career cushioning” was first defined to describe the precautions professionals take if they worry they might be fired or laid off from their current job in the near-future. These business professionals engage in “career cushioning” so they won’t spend a long period of time unemployed.

The ideal outcome of career cushioning is landing a new, better job the moment you leave your old one behind. The second-best outcome is a swift and smooth job search where you locate a best-fit opening and breeze through the application process.

Statistical Insight

According to a recent Business Insider article, the current ratio of US employees laid off or discharged every month is hovering around 1.1.% - a  historic low. The largest number of layoffs seem to be concentrated among tech companies and other industries that are contracting after an extended period of growth and expansion.

When you should (or shouldn’t) career cushion

There are many reasons why you might be interested in career cushioning. Perhaps you’re on the outs with their boss or supervisor.  Maybe the business you work for might be on the brink of going under due to mismanagement or vanishing customers. Or maybe the economy is going through a recession that’s putting everyone’s jobs at risk. Naturally, professionals are less likely to engage in career cushioning if they love their current job and company.

There’s debate in some circles over whether career cushioning is an ethical practice or not: some feel that career cushioning while employed is “setting yourself up to fail” and will lead to you neglecting the job you do have. Others argue that career cushioning is a sensible precaution in troubled times and that employees shouldn’t cling to their current companies at the expense of their own well-being.

  • The economy is in recession.
  • Your current position is stressful, low-paying, or lacks advancement opportunities.
  • Your relationship with your supervisor is poor.
  • You want to make a successful career change.
  • Your company has a record of laying off employees with little to no forewarning.
  • Your company is thriving.
  • You’ve recently received good performance reviews.
  • You enjoy your current work.
  • You have reasonable chances of getting a raise or promotions at your current job.

Career cushioning method #1: routine job searches and applications

The most straightforward career cushioning method is simply searching for and applying to new jobs while still working at your current position. As a general rule, most professionals can apply to 1-3 job openings every weekday of the week without adversely affecting productivity at their job. If they do get let go from their job or demoted to a part-time position, they can improve their chances of getting multiple job offers by applying to 3-5 openings every weekday.

Another key part of job searching while still employed is regularly updating your promotional documentation - your resume, your boilerplate cover letter, your profiles on LinkedIn, etc. Make sure all these materials are clear, easy to read, and reflect your current range of experience, skills, and professional accomplishments.

Career cushioning method #2: learning and mastering skills your target career will need

If there’s a dream job that you think would be more fun or pay better than your current job, review some relevant online job postings to see if you meet the requirements listed in their descriptions. If there are certain required skills, licenses, or certifications you currently lack, search for ways to acquire them.

This specific career cushioning method works best if you already have impressive time management skills or have open time slots during your work week - a few hours here and there to buckle down and learn new key skills. You can try to sign up for online/local courses, workshops, seminars or boot camps to learn these new work skills (if they offer official certificates to participants, so much the better). 

If these learning events have an attendance fee or don’t fit your schedule, self study can be a better alternative if you have the self-motivation to set and achieve learning goals for yourself.

Business skills example

These business skills and qualifications look good in professional summaries and are especially popular with hiring managers and broadly useful in many different jobs:

  • Leadership methodology

  • Computer programming languages

  • Data analytics

  • Digital or social media marketing

  • User experience (UX) design

Career cushioning method #3: routinely cultivating and expanding your network

Even if  you don’t have the time or energy to seek out new job opportunities while working at your current job, networking is an activity you should always be pursuing. If you’re interested in career cushioning, you have double the reason to engage in networking, an activity that can greatly improve your chances of being noticed by  companies looking for professionals like you.

Expert Tip

The first component of professional networking is building up your presence on the internet and among your chosen industry - regularly updating your social media profiles, attending career-building networking events such as formal seminars or informal mixers, and exchanging contact information with  other professionals. 

The second component of professional networking is following up with the connections you made - recording their contact information on your phone, keeping yourself informed about their professional affairs, and periodically sending them messages inquiring about their lives and endeavors.

Key takeaways

  1. Career cushioning is an assortment of methods that business professionals use to prepare for potential layoffs and swiftly get re-employed as soon as possible.

  2. Career cushioning is a prudent strategy if you’re worried about your job security or have reason to suspect your company will downsize or collapse in the near future.

  3. You can career cushion while working at your current job by researching and applying to new openings, expanding your professional network, or adding new skills to  your repertoire.

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